Pablo Picasso, born in 1881 in Malaga, Spain, and died in 1973 in Mougins, France, was an active artist for most of his long life. His father was an artist himself, was Picasso’s first and most formative art teacher. Picasso has one of the most prolific creative careers in history, and his work was not only loved by art lovers around the world, but it was also incredibly influential for artists everywhere. But what was Picasso’s inspiration? What inspired these famous works?
Picasso went through many creative phases in his career. These phases have been labeled as “periods” and show the different styles and mediums he was experimenting with during that time in his life. Picasso’s “Blue Period” started in 1901 and lasted until 1904. During this period, Picasso painted mostly in cool blue and green tones, sometimes using a warmer color to accent his works. These pieces have a melancholy about them, and are quite somber, featuring scenes of poverty and desolation. What was Picasso’s inspiration to start painting in this way? In the spring of 1901, one of Picasso’s dear friends, a painter and poet named Carlos Casagemas, committed suicide in a cafe in Paris. Picasso was deeply affected by his death, and sank into a depression that lasted several years. Picasso’s journey through his grief and depression is clearly reflected in his “Blue Period.”
In 1904, Picasso moved to Montmartre in Paris, and settled into the community of bohemian artists and creators there. Coming out of his depression over his friend’s death, Picasso moved on from dark and serious subjects in his paintings to more lighthearted compositions featuring harlequins, clowns and carnival performers. His color palette warmed up as well, with his paintings now bathed in reds, oranges, pinks and earth tones. This period would be known as Picasso’s “Rose Period” and it lasted until 1906. So what can be credited with this major shift in his work? Picasso met a woman named Fernande Olivier in 1904 and they began a relationship that lasted seven years. Olivier would be the first of a long line of women who were muses and lovers to Picasso over the years. This relationship and the end of his bout of depression signaled a more positive phase of Picasso’s life. The overall tone of his work during this period is much more carefree and less somber.
Citing beautiful women as inspiration would become a theme in Picasso’s life, all the way up until his death. Picasso has been quoted saying: “For me there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.” He often became obsessed with a young woman and she became an artistic muse for him, inspiring many works. All of the women Picasso took as either wives or lovers were painted by the artist. His second wife Jacqueline Roque was the subject of over 400 portraits by Picasso, and was a great source of inspiration to him.
From 1906-1909 Picasso was heavily inspired by African art, after he was exposed to traditional African masks and other art objects coming from Africa into French museums in Paris. This phase has been called his “African Period,” and was a precursor to his most famous period, “Cubism.” Influenced by Paul Cezanne’s experimentation with three-dimensional spacing and perspective, Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered the artistic movement known as Cubism. This way of breaking down a form to its most basic forms and reconstructing them in an abstracted way is what Picasso is most known for.
So what can we say was Picasso’s inspiration?
Throughout his life, Picasso’s inspiration came in many different forms. Whether it be working through his emotions, responding to a difficult life event, meeting a beautiful young woman, an intense love affair or the work of his fellow artists, Picasso took inspiration from everywhere in his life. In turn, his life’s work has inspired and influenced millions of people around the world and forever changed the history of art. There is no denying the power of Picasso’s creative mind, and the effects of his stylistic experimentation in Cubism shaped the artistic movements that followed him. As an artist who would come to influence so many artists himself, Picasso is a pillar in the modern art world with a fascinating life full of inspiration.
Pablo Picasso, one of the most prolific and well-known artists in history with nearly 50,000 known works, is famed for his recalcitrant invention of Cubism alongside Georges Braque. The artist was also known as it happen for his, often controversial, chronicles with women. Picasso had several muses over the course of his lifetime which appeared in his work. One notable young woman who Picasso chose to immortalize in more than 60 works is Sylvette David.
David and Picasso first met in Vallarius in 1954 at an exhibition where her fiancé, Toby Jellinek, was showing. Picasso had one of Jellinek’s chairs delivered to his studio where he presented a portrait of the 19-year-old drawn from memory and asked her to pose for him. This meeting would inspire several drawings and sculptures as well as 28 paintings over the course of just a few months. Life Magazine referred to this interval as his “Ponytail Period,” and it imparted instant fame to David. High ponytails fashioned after the artist’s depictions of Sylvette gained immense popularity in France during the summer of 1954. One of the most memorable works that likely sparked this development was his Sylvette, 1954. The work features the model from the waist up posed in profile and rendered in the classic Picasso Cubist style with great emphasis placed on the elegance of her polished hairstyle.
At the time of their meeting, Picasso’s personal life was in shambles; at 73, his wife Francoise Gilot had just left him. In his old age he seemed to have found comfort in the shy youthfulness of Sylvette. However, she did not succumb to the charms of the renowned artist and they maintained a purely professional relationship for the duration of their time together. The portraits of Sylvette flamed out after Picasso met his next love, Jacqueline Roque. The women who Picasso claimed as muses are legendary for losing their minds following their respective relationships with the artist. Sylvette, however, survived unscathed and went on to pursue her own artistic career.
Contemporary critics tend to discount this body of work because of its ephemerality; the high ponytail and the button down coats which Sylvette often sports in Picasso’s depictions of her were French trends of the 1950s and therefore, according to some, lack the qualities of notable work in the course of art history. However, the series of works that David modeled for is often regarded as Picasso’s only successful attempt at drawing from a model, and the beauty of the work is undeniable. The legacy of the works featuring the 19 year old endures in the work of Sylvette, now known as Lydia Corbett, herself. Though she was able to avoid the so-called madness which so tragically afflicted the other women in Picasso’s life, his influence is still clear in her oeuvre today.
Similar portraits of women by Pablo Picasso
The worlds of fashion and fine art collide in Moschino’s spring 2020 Milan fashion show. Milan’s fashion week took place on the 17th – 23rd of last month in September. Moschino, the fashion power haus made a tasteful attempt to commemorate the modern master Pablo Picasso ( Málaga, 1881- Mougins, 1973). The show featured supermodels such as Bella Hadid, Joan Smalls, Cara Taylor and more strutting down the catwalk, breathing life into some of Picasso’s most recognizable works. The Moschino creative director did not limit himself to one specific moment in Picasso’s artistic career, pieces in the show reflect all periods it.
Head creative designer and owner of the Moschino label Jeremy Scott was inspired by Picasso and the muses in his work, he was quoted saying “Muses inspire artists and artists inspire the world.” The muses that Scott refers to are the abounding female cameos that function as subjects in many of his paintings, prints, ceramics, etc. Unarguably, Picasso’s consistent reference to the female subject alludes to the major role that the feminine had in Picasso’s lifetime. The female models in this show would be intended to embody this vision. In preparation for this show, Scott spent a great deal of time researching these women of Picasso’s life. He states: “He painted so many portraits of the same women over and over again,” Scott adds, “His wives, his lovers, even his daughters. It got me thinking about the Picasso woman.” The women that drew most of his attention were painter Françoise Gilot and surrealist photographer Dora Maar. These women were two among a profuse amount of women featured in the work of Picasso, but what made them special to Scott were their own personal successes as artists and the exemplary way in which Picasso illustrated them. Both Gilot and Maar were illustrated in Picasso’s cubist style which seemingly defies reality. Jeremy Scott attempted to emulate this in the garments featured in this spring 2020 show.
Ensembles from the show defy reality. Symmetry, angles, and shapes are distorted in respect to traditional cubist principles. This fractured and geometric style can be seen worn in one piece that is a rendition of his famous sculptural collage, Guitar (1912-1914). This dress encompasses many of the elements that Picasso utilized in his own collage work. Found materials such as wood linoleum and newspaper clippings as seen in collage works like Au Bon Marché (1913), are represented in this dress. Although impressive, Scott was cautious when creating this line. Many of these garments go against all practicality, making them difficult for the average consumer to wear on a day-to-day basis. To overcome this, the creative team at Moschino fashioned more minimalist elements to these ensembles that would make these designs more accessible. Subtle trouser sets and simple black dresses accompany some of the larger and more extravagant pieces like this wearable painting complete with a frame. This piece was regarded as the highlight of the show, and it is clear why as it brings a new sense of dimensionality to Picasso’s work. Scott turns a conventionally two dimensional work of art into something that is three dimensional and can be worn. This wearable frame, Guitar dress and like others in this collection combine all of Picasso’s signature cubist elements in a nuanced way that is able to reach a greater audience. This collection is set to release and hit Moschino retailers in Spring of 2020.
When Pablo Picasso passed away without a will, he left behind more than 45,000 works which have become the center of personal and financial struggle between his heirs. The artist was survived by 4 children from 3 different women. They are as follows: Paulo (with Olga Khokhlova), Maya (with Marie-Thérèse Walter), and Claude and Paloma (with Francoise Gilot). Paulo, the artist’s only legitimate son, passed away in 1975. His children Marina and Bernard Picasso now join Claude, Paloma and Maya as official heirs to the estate.
The heirs at the center of the estate negotiations are Claude and Paloma. The relationship between them with their father has been challenging. Their mother, Francoise Gilot, left Picasso after a ten year affair, and is the only lover to ever leave the artist. In 1964, she published a book titled Life with Picasso which infuriated Picasso and led him to bar Paloma and Claude from his home. Despite this severed relationship, the two children were eventually able to gain shares of the estate through a 1972 law which protected illegitimate offspring.
Since then, Claude Picasso has been named legal administrator of Picasso’s estate and is now the head of the Picasso Administration, an organization that manages the licensing of Picasso’s name. The administration oversees a huge variety of legal concerns. Each year, an annual report is largely dedicated to court cases that have been settled or are pending. Given the wide variety of objects (automobiles, pens, lingerie) which have acquired Picasso’s name, it is not surprising that the administration is constantly enmeshed in legal battles. Despite their persistence in protecting the artist’s name, there still remain hundreds of illegal brands titled “Picasso” around the world. In regards to Picasso’s artworks, Claude remains the official authenticator and receives on average almost 1000 requests for authentication annually. The verification process can be complicated, given the scholarship required and the necessity for Claude to view the works in person.
We can only imagine the Picasso Administration will strengthen its authority as the market for Picasso works continues to soar. The range of Picasso collectors has grown exponentially to include regions such as Asia and the Middle East. Just last year, there were 34 Picasso exhibitions in total around the globe. One recent exhibition which generated great excitement was MOMA’s Picasso Sculpture. The exhibition was well received for revealing the lesser known aspects of the artist’s expansive oeuvre. As such, Picasso’s name also retains its value in the commercial art market. In May, 2015 Picasso’s 1955 painting Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) was sold by Christie’s for the astounding price of $179 million. This marked the record as the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.
Evidenced by the popular museum exhibitions and the high auction prices, the wealth and renown of Picasso and his family will continue to grow. Given their status within the art world, the family has been incredibly philanthropic. For instance, the majority of the heirs have donated Picasso’s works to museums. Several works have also been auctioned in order to support various charities. Recently, it was announced that Picasso’s studio in Paris would be transformed into a research and educational center of the arts. This project is headed by the Maya Picasso Foundation for Arts Education and you may find more information here:
Without a doubt, the heirs place their father’s legacy and career above personal conflicts. Their contributions will surely provide for the next generation of artists and scholars who will continue to expand our knowledge of the modern master.
More on Pablo Picasso:
Olga Khokhlova was born in Ukraine in 1891. She became a ballet dancer in the Ballets Russes as a young woman. She was a dancer in Parade in 1917, which was a collaboration between Sergei Diaghilev and Jean Cocteau. With Cocteau’s urging, Picasso became in charge of the costumes and set design for this production. Their romance was slow at first – she was chaste and required courting but Picasso was 35 and desperately wanted to start a family. When the ballet moved on to tour South America, Khokhlova ultimately stayed in Barcelona with Picasso.
They were finally married on July 12th, 1918 at a Russian Orthodox Church with Jean Cocteau serving as a witness. Back in Paris, the couple moved in next to Picasso’s dealer Paul Rosenberg where the two slowly climbed up the ladder of society.
While summering in Dinard in 1922, Olga fell ill with “gynecological troubles”. She had to have surgery. She got ill again years later in 1928, which ended in a series of operations and periods of lengthy recovery. Marie-Thérèse Walter was a fixture in Picasso’s life at this point. Khokhlova did not know about Walter for much of their affair, but she was aware of her husband’s other indiscretions. She became – rightfully – jealous and resentful. Picasso fed off this negative energy in much of his art of Khokhlova at this time. Khokhlova finally left the clinic in 1929, and here proceeded a time of Picasso’s double life between his wife and his mistress.
Like most of Picasso’s women, Olga’s life generates speculation and curiosity among many. Although she died in 1955 still legally married to Picasso, the idea of her being Picasso’s first wife and mother to his first child resonates today.
Richardson, John. ‘Portraits of a Marriage,’ Vanity Fair. December 2007. Accessed November 14, 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/12/picassos-wife-200712
Pablo Picasso, La Vie, 1903.
Pablo Picasso Blue Period (1901-1904) and his Paintings:
Hailed as a defining moment in Pablo Picasso’s artistic career, The Blue Period (1901-1904) was inspired by Picasso’s own emotional turmoil and financial destitution. Following a journey through Spain and the suicide of his close friend and confidant Carlos Casagemas (1881-1901) in February 1901, Picasso’s work took a dramatic turn. Casagemas, a poet, fell victim to unrequited love and ultimately took his own life after attempting to kill his scorned lover. His suicide had a deep and profound affect on Picasso, who was struggling as an unrecognized and poverty-stricken artist living in Paris at the time.
Beginning with several paintings memorializing Casagemas in late 1901, Pablo Picasso’s themes grew solemn and dark. He adopted a nearly monochromatic palette of blues and blue greens and began to convey somber scenes of misery and misfortune. The monochromatic use of blue was commonly used in symbolist paintings in Spain and France, where it was often affiliated with the emotions of melancholy and despair, suggesting that Picasso drew inspiration for The Blue Period from his time spent in Spain observing these symbolist works.
“Picasso metaphorically allows his subjects to escape their fate and occupy a utopian state of grace. Some are afflicted with blindness, a physical condition that symbolically suggests the presence of spiritual inner vision.”
The Blue Period also directed Picasso’s attention to subjects of misfortune: beggars, drunks, prostitutes, and the crippled, hungry, sick, and destitute. However, rather than show the specific circumstances of their misfortune, Picasso elongated his subjects’ forms, endowing them with a unique sense of haunting beauty and supernatural grace. As the National Gallery of Art (2014) suggests, by idealizing these figures, “Picasso metaphorically allows his subjects to escape their fate and occupy a utopian state of grace. Some are afflicted with blindness, a physical condition that symbolically suggests the presence of spiritual inner vision.”
Pablo Picasso, The Soup, 1902.
Throughout the Blue Period, Pablo Picasso produced many works addressing symbolic, philosophical, and humanitarian themes. La Vie, one of Picasso’s most iconic and mysterious works, has been interpreted (and disputed) by historians as an allegorical reference to birth, death, and redemption, the responsibilities of daily life, sexual incompatibility, and the struggles behind artistic creativity. A nude couple and a robed woman cradling a baby stand ominously before two paintings that depict figures crouched over in despair. The composition is stilted, the space compressed, the gestures stiff, and the tones predominantly blue – features characteristic of works from Picasso’s Blue Period. La Vie began as a self-portrait, but Picasso soon found his own features transforming to those of his lost friend Casagemas (the male figure on the left), perhaps suggesting the very personal nature of this work.
Pablo Picasso, The Tragedy, 1903.
While Picasso worked predominantly as a painter during The Blue Period, he also created phenomenal prints in the style of The Blue Period. These marvelous prints are often created after the image of renowned Picasso paintings, such as The Embrace and The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and his Companion). Picasso also incorporated pochoir, or hand-applied watercolor, to the majority of these prints, further contributing a sense of texture and emotion. Picasso’s journey into the dark depths of The Blue Period transformed his career as an artist. As a result, these prints, created in the style of The Blue Period, are amongst Picasso’s most valuable and desirable prints in today’s market. While The Blue Period ultimately defined Picasso as a modern artist, it serves as a reflection of Picasso’s own melancholy nature during a difficult period in his life. Furthermore, it highlights Picasso’s immense ability as an artist to channel his own misery and hardship into a revolutionary form of artistic expression.